A Memoir of Misfortune

Writer's Recommendations

About the Author Excerpt Making The Book
Picture of Author excerpt



Gabriele Wilson, Knopf cover designer, discusses the jacket of the book (see a full-size image of the cover below Gabriele's comments):


"This is a beautiful and tragic story about uprooting, displacement, and new beginnings. It's about a man who realizes his priorities in life, essentially how sharing and giving to others is all that really matters in the end. As a leader of the democracy movement in China, Su Xiaokang manages to escape to the United States, later to be reunited with his wife and young son. As they are ready to embark on their new life together, Fu Li, Su's wife, is in a horrific car accident in New York State and must not only relearn everything but do so in a foreign land.

"I wanted to show three natural elements holding on to life together on the jacket of the book to depict survival in foreign soil. Fu Li grew up gardening as a young girl and her friends tried to remind her of how much she had loved it after the accident. As she recuperates she sees some tulips in a gardening magazine and yearns for them. One morning shortly after a long rain clears, a row of tulips bloom outside of their new home. It is the first miracle the family has after what seems to be a journey filled with endless hardships. When designing the jacket, the tulips were the perfect metaphor for the family's growth and delicate upward movement. The flowers were a subtle gift for the Xiaokang's family for holding together and taking the time to reevaluate what really matters in life.

"I have a book of old botanical prints reproduced from Hortus Eystettenis, a 17th century treasure of illustrations. These tulips were especially detailed and delicate. Also the rich colors correlated with the tulips in the story.

"I thought three tulips could symbolize the mother, father and son. The little tulip on the bottom is the son, completely uprooted in a foreign land struggling to know if he is Chinese or American and the upside-down one is the wife after the accident. The largest one on the right is the father, holding things together protecting his family. All of them were positioned to evoke the tension of the family members.

"I wanted the paper to remind one of China as much as possible. I spoke with production about paper options and the "Tomahawk" was one of them. I thought it was the most appropriate option, because it evoked both Chinese rice paper and a jourlist's writing pad.

"The stamp around the author's name was a detail chosen to add a specific aspect of Chinese design, which I couldn't accomplish through the flowers alone. Chinese seals (signatures) date back to the time of the Chow-Han Dynasty. The Chinese have continued using this classical tradition in everything from art to money transaction to show personal identification. The seal is basically made from wood, metal or ivory. A friend brought one back from China and I stamped it in a red ink stamp pad and left just the border removing the Chinese signature in the center, replacing it with the author's name."